Thursday, February 16, 2012
THEY WALK AMONG US: MEET HOLLY
Holly wears Garden Goddess
Come meet Holly Sue, starting with a little of her life in her own words:
"If anyone had told me that I’d become a knitter in my late 50’s, I’d have figured they were nuts. When I was in high school and my family had just moved out of Philly and into a horrible suburb, my next-door neighbor taught me to knit, and helped me to make a turtleneck sweater. If I messed up, she’d fix it for me, but never taught me to fix it. Dropped stitches scared me to death, and I never knew that when a stitch looked warped out of shape that it was actually twisted.
A decade or so later I created a basket-weave scarf, never knowing that it was an actual, recognizable stitch. Unfortunately I chose my yarns based only on the natural look of the wool, and it was incredibly scratchy, so I rarely wore it. I actually located it at the bottom of a Rubbermaid container in my attic a couple of months ago.
Suddenly, in the early autumn of 2008, I developed a surprising desire to crochet a granny-square cover for my new queen-sized bed. I’d never crocheted anything before in my life, so I trotted on over to my local WalMart and picked out various variegated Red Heart yarns and a few heather-tones too. I did a Google search on Crocheting Granny Squares, and printed out the traditional design, and got to work. I quickly became very compulsive with my squares, and completed 200 out of the necessary 260, according to my mathematical calculations, and then realized that the acrylic yarn just wouldn’t stand up to the wear-and-tear provided by my cats.
An internet friend who was living in London sent me 2 skeins of Colinette Jitterbug yarn as a holiday/thank-you gift (for providing an Internet Salon—a safe haven for a bunch of us to discuss the issues of the day), and I became instantly ruined as far as being able to use easy-to-find, inexpensive yarns. I studied a few Barbara Walker books on knitting stitches, and started making scarves, in order to use financially manageable amounts of great yarns as I learned a variety of stitches. My very special Colinette went into a perfectly knitted feather-and-fan stitch, which had struck me as the best lace stitch. And, it prepared me for Jane Thornley Designs, as I’d shortly discover.
I checked out JoAnn’s and Michael’s, but didn’t find much in the way of natural fiber yarns. I’ve always been rather earthy, so wasn’t at all surprised to discover that acrylic yarn wasn’t my thing. So, back to the internet. I looked on ebay, and was amazed to see what appeared to be zillions of yarns. From there, I explored specific yarn companies as well as web stores that sold their products, and even hand spun and hand dyed yarn. I began bookmarking loads of on-line yarn stores. While looking for a certain colorway, I entered Sandra Singh’s web store, and saw an ad for the Jane Thornley Moss Cardigan, and was immediately twitterpated —Bambi’s word for entranced. A piece of clothing that looked as if it had grown on a fallen tree, deep in the woods—truly amazing!
So, a bit over 3 years after suddenly becoming a fiber-craftsman, I have a full-blown, dual addiction – fine quality yarn and Jane Thornley (and JT style) designs. My ill health cost me my first two careers ( folk-singer performer/guitar teacher, and totally hand sewn leather garment, hats, bags, clothing, etc) , and most of my third career—addictions therapist. My combination of CFIDS – Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, and Myofascial Pain Syndrome have greatly reduced the scope of my life on many levels, yet the joy that I take in creating fabulous wearable fiber art has added an unexpected new pleasure to my life.
Holly's FROND wrap. Bambi would tweet this!
Holly's South west bolero (Sunset Bolero pattern)
All right, so Holly and I are sitting down for an interview….
JANE: Holly, I know that you often use knitting to help mend your spirits, much as I do. Knitting is not just about making a bunch of loops, as far as I'm concerned. Do you consider knitting as therapy?
HOLLY: Yes Jane, I absolutely do consider knitting to be a major form of therapy for me!! Due to health issues, I’m becoming more and more of a couch lump, and I rather hate it. The entire process of knitting – from searching for the perfect yarn, through stash diving to locate the exact yarn for each JT project, to doing the actual knitting – keeps me sane and productive. I take both pleasure and pride in every creation.
JANE: Have you always considered yourself a creative person or did it take you by surprise?
HOLLY: Being creative has been the primary positive aspect of my life. I’d always loved doing the crafts projects in the girl scouts, but my self-esteem had tanked far too deeply for me to try being an art major in high school. I did, however, perform several folk songs with a girlfriend at the high school talent show in front of about 1500 people. I began teaching guitar on my own to younger local neighborhood kids at age 16.
My next-door neighbor helped me to knit a sweater but I never really learned what I was doing because every time I messed up, she’d fix it for me without explaining anything to me. So I was a one-sweater-wonder. Seven or eight years later I knitted a scarf, without any directions, and it came out looking great also, although very scratchy. Then I did nothing with yarn for several more decades.
In autumn of 2008, I suddenly taught myself to crochet so that I could make a granny square cover for my new bed. Then I got hooked on good quality yarns because a friend sent my some for X-mas from the British Isles, and took up knitting in early 2009. A few months into making lots of scarves, and cruising the web for bargains on fine yarns, I discovered Jane’s designs, and finally worked up the nerve to contact her. By very early 2010, I was into free-range knitting, and have never looked back.
I’ve marketed only a few scarves, and have a desire to grow another business, but my energy is terribly limited. The economy has put my private practice into a deep coma, and I’m not sure that it will return to life. Most likely I need a helper/cheerleader to launch a knitting business, and that person has yet to wander into my life.
JANE: How do you glean ideas for your interesting and unique approach to knitting?
HOLLY: Jane, I’ve been thinking that my “interesting and unique approach to knitting” came from you. I’m not sure what to say.
Okay, let’s start with my Southwestern Native American Li’l Free-Range Vest, since I consider this to be about my finest creation to date. That is quite different than yours. I love the combination of blues and browns, so that was an easy choice. Southwestern shades meant that I needed to use teals and aquas as opposed to cobalt and sky blues, and rusty browns instead of shades of coffee and café-au-lait. I wanted a lot of texture, so I needed to acquire some Aruacania chenille to compliment various boucles that I’d been stock-piling as well as a variety of hand dyed, hand spun, and interesting commercial yarns. I combined some thinner yarns to blend colors. When things didn’t strike me right, I ripped things out rather than tolerating my less than ideal combinations.
Some of my other more unusual creations, such as the Garden Goddess top resulted from refusing to rip out things I wasn’t sure I liked. I experimented with a large number of “diva” yarns, having developed the courage from admiring a couple of Mardi’s creations. I had been studiously avoiding these man-made fibers, as they weren’t “me” – they were the opposite of earthy and natural, which is my usual style. It came out quite different from anything I would have planned. I consider the top to be kind of classy, and as a result, I have nowhere to wear it.
My Flowing River Scarf was inspired by the incredible colors that Christina combines. I was fortunate that it worked out so well, as some other projects in which I attempted to follow her lead just came out a bit strange. I have no training in color work, so am doing a lot of wild experimenting at times. The unique hand-spun yarn with the glitter highlights became the autumn foliage along the banks of the river, and I had some fabulous commercial diva yarn in very similar shades to be the reflection of the banks. The faster moving water in the middle of the river is created from more usual shiny ribbon yarn from England, and I added some small stream stone for decoration.
When I first started to become interested in doing your fabulous designs, I showed some photos of your work to a woman who owns the most local yarn store, and she was very harshly critical. I suppose she wanted me to join her knitting classes, and figured that she could bully me into it, in the name of conformity to proper fashion. Little did she realize that she sent me in the totally opposite direction, as conservative styles and colors have never really appealed to me, and her attitude infuriated me. She talked about certain things being out of style, and I bluntly informed her that I create my own style. I also made it very clear that reason I like the Jane Thornley designs is because you are creative and artistic, and unbound by “normal fashion.” That woman is a burnt out retired Philly cop, so I ought no have been surprised by her sense of conformity. Strange because the male cops I’ve known were rather non-conformist. Ah well…
JANE: If you could give advice to anyone stuck on let's say, socks and scarves (as an example), what would you say?
HOLLY: I started knitting scarves, as this seemed like the best way to learn a bunch of stitches from Barbara Walker books, and to be able to use expensive yarns in relatively small affordable amounts. I’d taken up crocheting granny squares using Red Heart acrylic yarn from WalMart, and quickly decided my cats would destroy it too easily. Then a friend in England sent me a couple skeins of Colinette Jitterbug, and I never looked back.
As for being stuck, I never considered myself to be so until I saw your Moss Cardigan, and fell head-over-heels in love with free-range knitting. I’ve got a dresser drawer full of scarves which I knitted during my first year, and just figured that I’d wear a different one every day, and then start over. But these exceptionally innovative Jane Thornley designs allow me to combine many varieties of yarn and even various stitches. all in one garment. And if I am careful, my garments won’t wear out. Socks get holes too readily, and I’d find that heart-breaking to invest so much time and good yarn, and then need to throw away all of my hard work all too soon. I’ve been hesitant to knit socks just for this reason.
JANE: I ask this of everyone, Holly: do you wear what you make?
HOLLY: I love to wear most of what I make, Jane. People compliment me when I grocery shop at Wegman’s and also when I go to the very exclusive craft shows where I used to sell my hand stitched leather goods years ago. Sometimes I wish I had the energy to go more places so I could show off more of my work.